Industry Insights & News

Where Are the Shippers? Three Strategies to Help Carriers Connect with More Customers

October 12, 2022

Carriers need loads to keep their assets moving and earning money — a fact understood by everyone in the industry. The hard part, of course, is finding a consistent flow of freight to keep those trucks full. But while it may be possible for large carriers to have in-person sales teams and big marketing budgets to help engage new customers, new business development can be a challenge for smaller carriers. For them, however, developing direct shipper relationships can be difficult and take more time to become productive.

This dynamic leads many carriers to rely on third parties or intermediaries to source loads. Although there are plenty of advantages, carriers sometimes find that dealing with third parties can add cost and complexity to the shipping process. It’s important to know that quality third-party logistics providers will always play an important role in helping shippers keep their freight moving and carriers’ trailers full and on the road. But at the same time, having some direct relationships with shippers is every carrier’s goal, too.

If your business is looking for the right balance between using brokers/ third parties and developing its own direct shipper relationships, keep reading for our tips on how to find it.  

  1. Optimize every opportunity to create a connection with a shipper

    Even if a relationship with a shipper started through a third party or some other way, there is still an excellent chance for you to take it further. There are usually no rules that say you can’t work directly with the shipper on future loads. In fact, it’s a mistake not to try. You have to prove yourself first, of course, so doing the basic things like showing up on time, being communicative and friendly with the dock personnel, and having clean and well-maintained equipment make a positive impression on the shipper. Providing accurate and timely progress updates as shipments are on the road is essential, too.

    These extra steps are noticed, from the person at your customer’s dock tendering freight to the logistics manager selecting carriers. These are good best practices for your operation that can move your relationship from just handling a few transactional loads to being invited to more RFPs and building stronger, more long-term shipper relationships.

    Thinking more strategically about how you respond to eventual bid invitations and interactions with the shipper is also vital. Responding to every opportunity can be time-consuming for you and a shipper. Focus on lanes that are a good fit for your network and put your emphasis there. It will mean you get better loads and can reduce the chance that shippers will overlook your RFP responses because your past proposals were not a fit.

    Lastly, don’t assume the shipper knows to think of you as a good long-term partner for them. Usually, you have to ask, so make it known to the shippers that you’d like to handle more of their freight when you find a company with needs that align well with your abilities.
  2. Determine and find the right types of shippers for your company

    All shippers are not the same, and for you to build direct relationships with the right types of companies, you need to know what those companies look like. An important step is knowing what you are good at and the type of companies you want to grow with. Then you need to find them. Doing this correctly always takes some research and groundwork.

    A common mistake is for trucking companies to think they are good at everything. But, having experience with products or consignee locations with specific handling and delivery requirements (e.g., beverage companies or big box retailers) is a way to make it easier to identify shippers who’ll see extra value in what you can do for them.

    It’s also a mistake for carriers to assume their target companies know about them because you have previously worked together. There is always employee turnover and opportunities when this happens, so it’s important to continually perform some sales and marketing outreach with high-value targets.

    More good news, when shippers are looking for carriers who understand their business and can do the extra things better, they‘ll pay a little more.
  3. Use marketplaces that connect you directly to shippers

    Every relationship has to start somewhere. And some shippers find it easier and more efficient to use a freight marketplace. Dealing with things like vetting carriers for compliance and insurance are not things some shippers want to deal with.

    A freight marketplace is a great way to get your foot in the door with shippers that offer freight that’s a good fit for your business, such as finding valuable backhauls. And, as you find these types of shippers, you can work to build those relationships, as we highlighted in number one above.

    In addition to desirable spot loads and backhauls, established marketplaces can also provide quality contract opportunities. The point is that trucking companies need to go where the shippers are to find the relationships.

There’s no questioning the necessity and value third parties can provide. However, you can take advantage of a single transaction as an entry point to build your own relationships with shippers and find the right mix of customers for you. It doesn’t matter how you get there – what matters is your ability to take advantage of every strategic opportunity that comes your way. Implementing these three steps will make a difference and can help create lots of new relationships in a short amount of time.

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